Ijaw national leader and First Republic Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, speaks to FRIDAY OLOKOR about the 2023 general election, demand for South-East presidency and related issues
You have been in politics for quite a long time. Now, seven years into the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), some Nigerians believe that he has not done well. Do you share the same sentiment? As far as I am concerned, on the 25th of this month, I will be 95 years old. I will be lying if I have to say something to please anybody. As far as I am concerned, we do not have a functional government; as far as Nigerians are concerned, President Muhammadu Buhari is not functioning; nobody knows of his existence in Nigeria as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. So, when you asked me how the government is fairing, I said I don’t know. One could forgive him for the period he was not well, when he was on sick leave in Britain and we all sympathised with him, we all prayed for his quick recovery. But since he came back, nothing has happened in this country. For instance, Buhari took over the government militarily; he staged a coup on December 31, 1983 and everybody was happy, but what happened? The whole thing evaporated within one year during the time and (Tunde) Idiagbon was almost a dictator in this country; he was the only one doing everything. What Buhari was associated with at that time were draconian laws and locking up journalists in prison. Then, the military gave a reason; (Joshua) Dogonyaro and (Sani) Abacha gave reasons that the popularity that brought them to power had vanished and that Nigerians were no longer feeling the impact of their government. Abacha added that for two years, Buhari could not change the economy of Nigeria, which was going down at the time of (Shehu) Shagari and that was why they overthrew him. It is in the book written by Dan Agbese. So, what am I saying? Even as a military man, he did not perform; even as Chairman of the PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund), he did not perform. He used his cousin to run the place. He, first of all, employed the man as a consultant and only later, he handed the administration to the young man. Chief Tayo Akpata of Benin, my colleague in (Samuel) Ogbemudia’s government, was appointed official secretary of the PTF, but he was not given the power. My own brother, Prof J. P. Clark, was a member of that board. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who was later killed, was a member. So, it is not a thing that I didn’t know what was happening. I came to visit my brother once and he introduced me to Buhari and that was the first and the last time I met Buhari. Are you saying that since then, you have not met Buhari physically? I have not met Buhari. Why? Did you make efforts to see him? Why should I see him? Why should I be the one to look for him? Listen, I have given a lot to this country for 70 years; I have given a lot to this country. For instance, if the intelligence agencies are working in this country, if the security forces are working, Buhari should have known the role I played in trying to bring back the Chibok girls; that alone is enough for him to send for me to say, ‘Old man, what were you people doing?’ Rather, they sent policemen to search my house for two hours. Let me also tell you, at the beginning of his coming to office, for two full years, each year I celebrated my birthday, he never congratulated me until I sent a petition to him. I did not know him as an army officer; I counted about 30 army officers who were senior to him. It’s 12 years that President Umaru Yar’Adua died and Dr Goodluck Jonathan succeeded him through the doctrine of necessity. Now, there is pressure on Jonathan from some quarters to come out and contest the presidency again. Have you given him your blessing? No comment. You were very close to Jonathan and you were one of those who told him to run in 2015… Because he was qualified. Recently, you have been agitating for a southern President, but it appears that politicians from the North are trying to really play a game. Do you see anything strange in that? Nothing strange in that but no one is going to be a second-class citizen in his own country. Some people believe that they own this country. The country does not belong to the northerners alone; the northerners cannot win any election without the South, nor can the South win any election without the North. So, if we, southerners are united and know our rights that we are all equal citizens in this country since 1914 when Lord Lugard amalgamated this country, then there is no problem. They cannot hold elections without us; we cannot hold elections without them. These people are just toying with us because of the so-called population they have. But I’m warning them that the Middle Belt, which they used in fighting the civil war in 1967, will no longer be there for them and they will be in the minority. If a man like Major General Jeremiah Useni, who used to be the FCT minister and who used to be one of the senior military officers, can write a letter to me a few months ago complaining about the Fulani invasion of his area by herdsmen and that PANDEF should come to their aid, you can understand. I have a copy of the letter and I held a press conference on it. If the genocide taking place in Southern Kaduna continues, Boko Haram killing of non-Kanuri in particular, there is more trouble ahead. We have been told that Chibok has been invaded again. I received a delegation of Chibok people last month here in my house. There was a man, who has eight children, five of them were kidnapped by these people; a woman had her 15-year-old daughter kidnapped; she would have been 20 now and nobody reached out to them; the President has not visited Chibok and you are asking me what I think of Buhari’s government. What has he come to do in Ebonyi? Must the governor declare for the APC before he goes there? Are Ebonyi and Imo states the only states in the South-East? Please, some of us are old enough to speak our minds. Talking about southern presidency, which of the South-South, South-East and South-West zones do you think actually deserves the presidency in 2023? Nigeria became independent in 1960. In 1957, (Abubakar) Tafawa Balewa became the Prime Minister of Nigeria; we were practising the parliamentary system of government then. The only position held by the Igbo was ceremonial President or ceremonial Governor-General in the person of (the late) Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. In July 1975, a Yoruba man in the person of (Olusegun) Obasanjo took over from (General) Murtala Muhammed, who was killed even though he was very naïve and allowed Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua, who was promoted to Brigadier or Major General at that time as the Chief of General Staff, to become the de facto Head of State of this country. So, when Obasanjo handed over (power) to Shehu Shagari, he had done tree years. Then, another Yoruba man (the late Ernest) Shonekan came in for only two months, and then Obasanjo was elected President in 1999 and held the position for eight years. The Inspector-General of Police, Musiliu Smith, was a Yoruba. When he retired, Tafa Balogun took over and when Balogun left, Sunday Ehindero took over. At that time, Colonel Are was the Director-General of the DSS. Abdulrahman Ahmed was the Chief of Staff from Kwara. So, eight plus three, is that not 11 years? So, he (Obasanjo) handed over to Yar’Adua, a northerner in accordance with the agreement on rotation. Unfortunately, he (Yar’Adua) died.
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